Friday, November 30, 2007
Donis Casey at Velma Teague Library
Last night, award-winning mystery author Donis Casey appeared at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale, AZ, as one of the Authors at the Teague. Casey just won the Arizona Book Award for Best Mystery for her first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming.
Casey introduced the character of Alafair Tucker in that first book. Donis grew up in Oklahoma, and her family is from that part of Oklahoma where the books are set. She said she takes stories from family history, particularly her husband, Don's family, for some of the book. Her mother told her about incidents, or her in-laws did. She jokes that the worst crimes are taken from his family history, and not hers.
She does a great deal of research, reading, and discussing family stories to write her books. The murder in her latest book, The Drop Edge of Yonder, is based on an actual murder. One of the last scenes in the book, a powerful one, is based on an article she read over 30 years ago. A man told about someone he "killed" in a battle, who kept attacking him, even after he was basically dead.
Alafair Tucker, Casey's lead character, is not particularly interested in being a detective. She's a farm wife, with a husband and ten kids. What she is interested in is her kids, and keeping them out of trouble. In each book, one of the grown children gets in trouble, and needs their mother to get them out of it. Each book is about a different grown child. Phoebe, a gentle girl, is featured in The Old Buzzard Had It Coming. Alice, Phoebe's twin, is a headstrong girl who doesn't appreciate her mother's interference, is the lead in Hornswoggled. The third, and most recent mystery, The Drop Edge of Yonder, stars Mary, the good-natured daughter. Mary knows she holds a vital clue to a murder in her mind. She's been traumatized, but knows if she's left in peace, it might float to the surface. The problem is her mother. Alafair is desperate to keep her daughter safe from a killer who is still out there, so she hovers and snoops.
Donis Casey was raised in Oklahoma. She said in writing these books, she discovered people don't know anything about Oklahoma, or they have misconceptions. She sarcastically thanked John Steinbeck for that. She said in the 1910's, Oklahoma was a brand new state, and some people were very rich, with cattle, oil and land. Others who were poor and lawless poured into the state from all over. In some ways, Oklahoma was still the wild, wild west, but in the cities, it was cutting edge. It was racially different from other parts of the country. The Indians in Oklahoma were prosperous, educated, had their own nation, their own newspapers and schools. They were not happy with the influx of people. Nor were the blacks. There were black towns in Oklahoma, settled after the Civil War. They were not happy with their change in status. Some in the state were very left-wing, not at all interested in the war brewing in Europe.
Casey said in writing a historical mystery, the author must know about the place and time. The world was much larger, and much different in the 1910's. Crime investigation depended on where you lived. In London in 1914, a detective might have access to fingerprints, and other "modern" techniques. In Oklahoma in 1914, the local law knew the family and friends of the victim, and in Boynton, the local sheriff might have had a cousin like Alafair. People were inclined to tell her things, since she was "everyone's mother."
Alafair Tucker believes that loving can make you dangerous. Intuition, not intellect, might be the highest form of "knowing".
The pictures on the covers of Casey's first two books are her relatives. The one on the cover of The Drop Edge of Yonder was found at the Tempe Historical Museum. It looks like her father's favorite aunt, Mary Morgan, the character Mary was based on. The house on the cover is her grandfather's house in Boynton, Oklahoma, the model for Alafair's house.
In her most recent books, she includes a family tree, so readers can keep the family straight. She also includes recipes in the back of the books, and tells how to eat that food. She chooses titles that are ethnic sounding. The Drop Edge of Yonder is an old Texas saying that implies a place halfway between this world and the next.
Casey plans to do ten books, if she can maintain the high level of quality. She already has ideas for all ten. She's working on the fourth book right now. It will be set in 1915, and Martha, the oldest daughter, is the focus. It's a travel book, because Alafair, Martha, and Grace, the baby of the family, travel. The fifth book will be set in 1917. The world is changing. It's a time of turmoil, with some similarities to the current state of the world.
Farm families back then raised a labor force. At this stage of her life, Alafair can investigate crimes because her older daughters do much of the work around the house. Alafair is based a lot on what Casey observed about her grandmothers, her own mother, and heard of her mother-in-law. Women were less constrained on the frontier than in places such as New York City. The women were laconic, with terse deliveries. They talked straight.
Thank you to Bette Sharpe, librarian at the Velma Teague Library, for arranging for Donis Casey's appearance at the library, and to Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, for sales of the books.
And, I mentioned I'll be starting the new year of contests off with a bang. Donis Casey donated a copy of The Drop Edge of Yonder, and signed that and an ARC of Hornswoggled. I'll be offering them as prizes in the first contest of 2008, so watch for these books in January!
The next Authors at the Teague appearance will be by Leighton Gage, author of Blood of the Wicked. Gage will be coming from Brazil to speak at the library at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24th.